Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
May 19 2014

Dan Barber’s The Third Plate: A lovely read

Dan Barber.  The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food.  Penguin Press, 2014.

New Picture (1)

 

Here’s a welcome addition to any library.  Dan Barber, justifiably renowned chef of Blue Hill in New York City and at Stone Barns and its farm in Westchester, writes as well as he cooks—and that’s very well indeed.

The book contains his musings on who and what it takes to produce wonderful food that is also seasonal, locally sourced, and sustainably raised.  He groups the musings on people, places, and cooking into four sections: Soil, Land, Sea, and Seed.

He explains the meaning of the Third Plate title:

  • The first plate is passé: a 7-ounce corn-fed steak with a small side of vegetables.
  • The second plate is where we are now: grass-fed steak, heirloom carrots grown in organic soil.
  • The third plate is the future: the positions of meat and vegetables reversed.

As Barber puts it,

I was looking toward a new cuisine, one that goes beyond raising awareness about the provenance of ingredients and—like all great cuisines—begins to reflect what the landscape can provide.

To do that, he talked to farmers.

The farmers in this book farm one level down.  They don’t think in terms of cultivating one thing…Instead, they grow nature by orchestrating a whole system of farming.  And they produce a lot of things—delicious food, to be sure, but also things we can’t easily measure or see…I confess I kept getting pulled into visiting the farms in this book because I was in pursuit of how an ingredient was grown or raised…I went in search of answers to practical questions.  Each time I tried to parse the specifics of how something was grown, I was instead pointed in the opposite direction: to the interactions and relationships among all the parts of the farm and then, with more time, to the interactions and relationships embedded in the culture and history of the place.

No wonder his food tastes so good!

 

May 16 2014

One more on saving nutrition standards, this time WIC

This plea comes from the American Public Health Association (APHA):

APHA is partnering with the National WIC Association and other public health organizations to gather signatures on a letter urging Congress to reject any congressional intervention through the appropriations process to determine the composition of the WIC food packages.

The appropriate way to ensure that the WIC food package remains science-based is for USDA to engage the Institute of Medicine to conduct another review of the latest nutrition science, including consumption data.

…The potato industry remains unhappy about the potato’s exclusion from the WIC food packages, particularly in light of the release of the final food package rule. We fully expect members of both the House and Senate to propose amendments to the agriculture appropriations bills in their respective chambers mandating potatoes into the WIC food packages.

This would set a bad precedent that jeopardizes the scientific integrity of the WIC food packages.

Sign our sign-on letter to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees.

Please share the link with  colleagues and friends!

May 15 2014

Action Alert #2: stop congressional micromanagement of school nutrition standards

Congressional interference with school nutrition standards is looming large on the horizon.

Margo Wootan of CSPI is collecting signatures on a petition to stop this.  She writes:

Some members of Congress are playing politics with our children’s health. We expect they will act on Tuesday May 20 to gut nutrition standards through the appropriations process.

They might say they just want to provide schools with a little more “flexibility,” but their changes would roll back standards on salt, whole grains, fruits/vegetables, and snacks.

These are the same people who legislated that pizza is a vegetable (because it contains a little tomato sauce)!

…Thankfully, ninety percent of schools now meet the updated nutrition standards for school lunch, helping millions of students get more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. 

In summary:

  • Congress is trying to micromanage  school nutrition standards to win political points.
  • Schools need support and technical assistance, not a free pass to serve junk to kids.
  • And kids need nutrition standards based on science, not politics.SIg

SIgn the petition.  Better yet, write you own letter.

May 14 2014

Action alert: Pressures on school nutrition standards

Let’s be clear: democratic processes are at stake in attempts by the Maine potato growers and other self-interested parties to get Congress to overturn the USDA’s nutrition standards for the WIC program and for school food—through use of appropriations, not legislative, bills.

USDA hardly made the standards up out of thin air.  

Now, Maine senators—who should know a lot better—are doing an end run around USDA’s process- and science-based regulations for the content of the WIC package.  These, as I’ve written before, exclude white potatoes because WIC recipients already eat plenty of them.

And now 43 members of the House, mostly Republican, want the USDA to weaken the rules for school meals.

School meal standards, let me remind you, were the result of no less than three scientific and policy reports from the Institute of Medicine, and rulemaking processes that allowed ample public input.

URGENT: write your congressional representatives and ask them to vote against these attempts to undermine the integrity of USDA’s nutrition standards.  Congress is working on these measures right now.

May 13 2014

It’s back at last: Breadlines Knee-Deep in Wheat

Janet Poppendieck.  Breadlines Knee-Deep in Wheat: Food Assistance in the Great Depression.  University of California Press, 2014.

I wrote the Foreword to this updated and expanded edition of Jan Poppendieck’s 1986 classic.

What a gift to have this new edition of Breadlines Knee-Deep in Wheat, too long out of print, and badly missed…Food assistance is what this book is about.  Breadlines tells the story of how the U.S. government, confronted with destitution during the Great Depression of the 1930s, first became involved in feeding the hungry.

Government agencies attempted to resolve two pressing social and political problems with one stroke:  breadlines, the unemployment-induced poverty that forced great masses of people to line up for handouts of free food, and knee-deep in wheat, shorthand for the great bounty of American agriculture that was available at the time, but unaffordable and allowed to rot or intentionally destroyed.

The solution: distribute surplus commodities to the poor while also—and politically far more important—providing farmers with a paying outlet for what they produced.   The earlier chapters of Breadlines focus on the politics—as played out in disputes between members of the Roosevelt administration—that led to a critical shift in the focus of food distribution programs.  Once aimed at hunger relief, the programs ended up aimed at protecting the income of farmers.

As a result, the hunger problem remained unsolved…. Breadlines has much to teach us about the historical basis of today’s politics of hunger, welfare, and agriculture policy.

Janet Poppendieck deserves much praise for writing this book and bringing it up to date, and so does University of California Press for producing this most welcome new edition.

May 12 2014

More on USDA Process-Verified chicken

George Faisan sent me this photo of a package of Perdue’s USDA process-verified chicken.

image2

I wrote about this chicken in 2011.

At the time, I pointed out that broilers are usually raised on grain, are not usually fed animal by-products, and are never fed hormones or steroids.  And cage-free usually means something like this:

image

The USDA does indeed have a process verification program .  As I explained in 2011, it is a marketing program that allows producers to make claims and create certification logos.

My 2011 remarks elicited a response from a Perdue official implying that the only antibiotic used in their chickens is one used to deal with coccidiosis, and it is not used in humans.  He said Perdue is a family-owned company trying hard to do this right.

My remarks also elicited a response from Tyson, a Perdue competitor:

Dr. Nestle is correct that Perdue’s claims are marketing hype. The process verified label is confusing to consumers because it implies that Perdue’s practices are more humane than other producers and that other producers raise broilers in cages. Neither of those claims are true. Tyson filed a petition, supported by consumer survey research, requesting that USDA revoke that label.

The Tyson petition objected to Perdue’s use of Process Verification on the basis that its labels are misleading.

USDA disagreed.  It defended the Process Verified Program as

a voluntary, user-fee program that is open to all companies…to gain a marketing advantage for their products.  Perdue’s competitors are free to participate in the program and obtain the same marketing advantage.

In 2011, Perdue was claiming that its chickens were “humanely raised.”  It’s not doing that anymore.

Backyard chickens, anyone?

May 9 2014

Opening today: Fed Up! See it!

This ad was in last Sunday’s New York Times.  It appears again today with blurbs added.

Full disclosure: I’m one of the many people interviewed for the film and appear in three 10-second clips.

Fed Up! is a stunningly hard-hitting exposé of the food industry’s role in promoting unhealthy diets and childhood obesity.  It spares nothing in showing the devastating effects of obesity on kids (I found those parts painful to watch).

The film’s main message is that the food industry, in collaboration with government, is responsible for creating a food environment that promotes poor health.

It is especially tough on food company marketing and industry-sponsored research.

It is also—I think, unfortunately—tough on Michelle Obama and her Let’s Move! campaign.

Mrs. Obama is not the problem.  The food industry’s marketing and co-opting practices are the problem.

We can debate whether it was wise or useful for Let’s Move! to partner with the food industry, but the campaign has done much to bring issues of childhood obesity to public attention.

It’s ironic that the accomplishments of Let’s Move!—the White House garden, the Healthy Hunger-Free Act of 2010, the new school food nutrition standards, the new nutrition standards for WIC, and the new food label, for example—are at this very moment under fierce attack by food companies, their trade associations, and their friends in Congress.

With that said, the film is well worth seeing.  Don’t miss it.  Get your friends to see it.  Let the debates begin.

How to see Fed Up!

  • Watch the trailer here.
  • Find out where it’s playing here.
  • Share it on social media here.
  • See Katie Couric’s excellent ABC News interview here.
  • Read the New York Times review here.

As for the debate, please enjoy:

Additions

May 8 2014

5 rules for supermarkets: the English translation

Bernard Lavallée, Le nutritionniste urbain, has supplied an English translation of the French graphic I posted a couple of days ago:

5tips_marion_nestle_eng

He’s done other food graphics.  You can see them at this site.

Thanks for sending!

 

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